Album Review: Park Jiha – Communion [Tak:til; March 2018]

Park Jiha‘s debut solo album, Communion, builds iconic soundscapes by merging traditional Korean instruments (piri, saenghwang and yanggeum) and percussion, with instruments from a western jazz background (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, and vibraphone). The effect brings new ideas which build sonic stories and new ways of appreciating music. Listening to the album opens up an experience of woodwind-based neoclassical and ultimately innovative music from Korea.

The album itself can be seen as an extension of Park Jiha’s previous projects: from her work with Seo Jungmin in their band 숨[suːm] where they performed original compositions using a plethora of Korean instruments, to her participation in the OneBeat programme in the U.S., an international music exchange that brings together resident musicians to collaborate and write new music together.

Communion combines distinct musical elements; each note is picked carefully, drawing out the musical uniqueness and qualities of the instruments – focusing on the timbrel and electro-acoustic recording elements as an anchor for building soundscapes, the songs build slowly, incorporating musical concepts section by section.

Stable percussive and rhythmical frameworks hold the songs together while the players sometimes break out into collected musical chaos, for instance in the song ‘All Souls’ Day’ which rises and falls in intensity like waves against a shore. These steady elements carry the album along and allow for other instruments to join the soundscape and take their own distinct places. At times this slow monotony can become overbearing as you wait for climactic sections to appear.

‘Sounds Heard From The Moon’ feels like the future: a calm, barren, beautiful future upon a deserted moonscape. The album’s title track ‘Communion’ brings elements of avant-garde classical composers like Philip Glass, which turns into jazz as the song progresses before returning to type towards the end of the song. The album creates a magical experience and although slightly uneasy at times, the world it creates is both majestic and unique.